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Consciousness and quantum theory

  1. Nov 13, 2003 #1
    I have just finished reading the ghost in the atom by P Davis and was intrigued by John Wheeler's interpretation of quantum theory where the wave function collapses when it enters the conciousness of an observer. I was wondering if since the book was published any progress has been made on this or whether it has been disproved.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2003 #2


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    Not conclusively either way, as far as I know. But I think the idea is mostly not accepted because it makes lots of assumptions, carries a lot of metaphysical baggage, and contains paradoxes like Wigner's Friend - basically a version of the schrodinger's cat problem with a human. Then, when the box is closed, and no one can observe the other, is the occupant real or are the experimentalists outside real?
  4. Dec 1, 2003 #3
    If you take this to the extreme you could say the collapse of the wave function is the brain simply making an irreversible decision about which possibility to follow. How do we know that the other possibilities don't still exist outside our brain, provided our
    brain sticks to it's story?
  5. Dec 1, 2003 #4


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    An unconscious observer works just as well.
  6. Dec 2, 2003 #5
    That response is getting smaller and smaller each time this issue's brought up, eh?

    jackle, would you agree that our brains are made up of cells, which are made up of atoms, which are made up of subatomic particles? If so, what exactly is the difference, to a subatomic particle encountering another subatomic particle that is part of a brain, between that subatomic particle, and another that is a part of a rock, or a part of a glass of water?
  7. Dec 2, 2003 #6
    Exactly Mentat. So why should the wave function collapse at all? If one particle can't collapse the wave function, or two, or three or three thousand, why should our brains? If it relys on consciousness perhaps the collapse is an illusion created by the nature of consciousness. This would explain why it relys on consciousness to 'work'. There is no other good explanation I have heard.

    Maybe all those over-lapping realities are too much for us to focus on. We just experience one reality which evolves inside our consciousness. Out there, nothing has collapsed at all. This would mean that we are actually all alone in our own little world - a good reason for thinking up a better explanation fast!
  8. Dec 3, 2003 #7
    That's the point, jackle, our brains have nothing to do with it. Particles do indeed collapse the wave-functions of other particles, through energetic reactions, but the point of my post was that whether the particle belongs to a brain or to a rock is irrelevant, and the wave-function will collapse regardless.

    But it doesn't rely on consciousness. That (again) was the point of my post. Consciousness isn't even recognizable at the subatomic level, and the mathematics and physics of QM work just fine without the addition of the necessity for consciousness.
  9. Dec 3, 2003 #8
  10. Dec 4, 2003 #9
  11. Dec 9, 2003 #10
    Do we know that? I'm still unclear on the orthodox view of what collapses waves.

    Except that consciousness creates them.
  12. Dec 9, 2003 #11
    Well, that's the thing about Theoretical Physics. There is no real "orthodox" view on most of the current issues. Energetic reactions can collapse wave-functions in different ways...it doesn't always occur, but sometimes it does.

    Consciousness discovers them.
  13. Dec 9, 2003 #12


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    Could it be "belief" or "faith" that an event will happen collapses the wavefunction?
  14. Dec 9, 2003 #13
    What experimentation can demonstrate that consciousness can collapse waves or particles?

    Consciousness was addressed by Albert Einstein.

    We see our reality as we assume it exists

    Attached Files:

  15. Dec 9, 2003 #14
    This means that we know for certain that a conscious observer is not required to collapse a wave function. Are you sure about that? I thought it was still being debated.

    That's an odd view. Isn't mathematics the study of numbers?
  16. Dec 10, 2003 #15
    Not exactly. It's still being debated whether consciousness plays a role in collapsing the wave function, but it is not under debate whether this is necessary (at least, not in purely mathematical terms).

    Consciousness discovers the relationships that exist in nature, and then creates (you were right about that, I just mis-read you) the mathematics to understand them.
  17. Dec 11, 2003 #16
    You are wise to question these things Canute. There are some very bold statements being made in this thread. It's a complicated topic and any serious study will leave many questions. Current research is still being done in this area and many questions remain. The best thing to do is to study as much as you can and try to understand it yourself to the best of your ability and develop your own view. This is one of those topics that is complex enough that three different people will give you three different spins depending on the view of reality they intend to support.
  18. Dec 11, 2003 #17
    Fliption's right that you should continue to search for answers to these still-unanswered questions. However, there is one thing that cannot be disproven, merely on the basis of the fact that it is a negations, and negations can't be disproven...and that is that the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics work to describe the behavior of a particle very accurately, and can do so without the intoduction of conscious observation. The addition of the idea that consciousness is necessary is for the purpose of conceptualization and comprehension; and may indeed turn out to be true, but is not necessary for the mathematics to work, and is therefore (in my opinion) an unnecessary add-on that defies most of the things we know about consciousness and the brain.
  19. Dec 11, 2003 #18
    This is true because there is no number called consciousness. It's the interpretation of what the math means that is the struggle. As opposed to calling it an unnecessary addition, I think this step is crucial and scientific. Without it we have nothing but math.
  20. Dec 12, 2003 #19
    I agree about keeping an open mind. My questions were intended to suggest that not everyone here was doing that. As Fliption said, there are some over-bold claims being made. As far as I'm aware the details of relationship between wave-collapse and conscious observation remain a mystery, or at least a matter of debate.
  21. Dec 12, 2003 #20

    The debate continues of this inexplicable relationship of wave-collapse and observations made by a conscious preception. Do we see reality as we assume it exists?

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
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